A Series of Unfortunate Events TV Series Review

q9jqvvnrA Series of Unfortunate Events is a book series written by Daniel Handler under the pen-name of Lemony Snicket. However, unlike most pseudonyms, Lemony Snicket actually interacts with the book series and features as a part of the book’s universe. The book chronicles the lives of the rich Baudelaire orphans after their parent’s deaths. Lemony Snicket serves as a narrator and possess a personal connection to the Baudelaire’s. It turns out, he loved the Baudelaire mother, Beatrice, back when the two were still young. However, Beatrice ended up marrying Betrand, the Baudelaire father, rather than Lemony. Nonetheless, after hearing of her death, Lemony feels compelled to discover what happened to the Baudelaire children afterwards and hence the novel commences with him frequently remarking upon the terrible circumstances. Are you still with me?

The Baudelaire’s are made up of three children. Violet, the oldest at 14, is a genius inventor and often takes the leadership role in the various situations the children find themselves in. Klaus, the middle child at 12, is a voracious reader and has the ability to remember everything he’s read, the point where he can recite random quotations from random authors at verbatim. And finally, Sunny, is the youngest at 2(?). Although she can’t properly speak by the time the books begin, she is incredibly intelligent, possess the ability to understand complex situations and communicates with ‘babbles’ only her siblings understand. The trio lived happily with their well-off parents until a mysterious fire destroyed their house, presumably also killing their parents although no bodies were found. A local banker, Mr. Poe, is tasked with executing their parent’s will, which includes the huge inheritance the trio are to inherit once Violet comes to age. Despite being foolish and self-absorbed, Poe is also responsible for finding a new residence for the Baudelaire’s, as the parent’s will specified that the Baudelaire’s were to live with their closest living relative. And herein enters Count Olaf, the main antagonist, an actor with circus henchmen who is determined to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune by any means possible, including murder.

There are 13 books in the series and each book deals with the children adapting to their new living situations, trying to get away from Count Olaf and his schemes to take over their fortune, and attempting to figure out their parent’s past/ present. The parents, it turns out, were spies (?) of some sort for the VFD (volunteer firefighters department?), a secret organization. Apparently, there was a schism in the organization wherein people split and took sides. The Baudelaire parents were obviously on the good side while Count Olaf was on the bad (yes, Count Olaf knew the parents from long ago). A lot of the people the Baudelaire’s encounter in the book are/were a part of the VFD, but despite their occurrence, the Baudelaire’s never do find out the full truth of their parent’s participation in the VFD. In fact, readers themselves never fully find out what the VFD is/for/does/did. Every new piece of information is given incomplete, through small vague clues, leading to eventual diversions to other topics/ parts of the truth.

I read somewhere that this elusive, purposeful holding of the full truth, was actually one of the themes of the book (i.e. the incomplete nature of the full truth). While I guess that explanation would help to solve the question of why the books remain so vague in its answers, I don’t really care. I just found it incredibly frustrating. I read this series way back, around the time the first book was published (early 2000s). Immediately, the dark comedic tone and mysterious story caught my attention and enthralled me. I faithfully read the books until the 10th book, after which I realized that the full truths of the story would never be revealed. The series contains 13 books, and while I normally don’t like reviewing or writing about things upon which I only have incomplete knowledge, I’m willing to make an exception in this case. I’m pretty proud of the fact that I managed to reach the 10th book because most people I know who’ve read the story have not finished it either, or even reached the 10th book. Despite the wonderful story and great suspense, the story is too frustrating and unfulfilling to follow, as the full truth is NEVER revealed. It’s just annoying to read a story only to realize that you’ll never actually know what happened.

Anyway, after that long recap, this post isn’t really about the books but about the tv series. This year, an original NetFlix production of the series was created and aired. Currently, only season 1 has aired and it has covered 4 books. Although I was quite frustrated by the books inability to answer its mysteries, I was still incredibly excited at the prospect of the show about them. The books are written well and do have engaging characters. The books had been attempted to be adapted for the big screen with a movie in 2004. But personally, I wasn’t a fan of it as I felt it rushed too many things. Hence, when I heard about the tv adaptation, I was excited because I felt a tv format would allow for greater detail and accuracy. To be happiness, that is exactly what happened.  The sets, stories, scenes, larger VFD mystery are all well done and plotted and remain fantastic. I honestly had not expected it to be as great as it was. That said, I do want to address a few things.

Firstly, I heard that there was some criticism over Neil Patrick Harris’s Count Olaf, with most people saying that he wasn’t scary enough. But to be honest, I don’t think that criticism holds. Yes sure Harris plays Count Olaf with more humour than his book counterpart, but that doesn’t detract from the scariness. His Olaf is still terrifying. There’s a menacing undercurrent to Olaf’s humour that comes through with Harris’s acting which prevents Olaf from coming across as too comedic. If anything, I think it enhances the character. Olaf fancies himself a great actor and Harris’s Olaf embodies that delusional identification with crazy costumes, weird voices, and general oddness. But he still manages to imbue Olaf with a scariness because his Olaf is also absolutely ruthless with his violent tendencies, devious tricks, and general horribleness. It’s more of a low-key threat, which I quite appreciate because I think it helps keep the tone of the show/ books.

Secondly, despite my earlier claim of accuracy in the show, I want to iterate that this doesn’t mean that everything is 100% accurate. If anything, it’s about 80% accurate, which is still quite accurate in the grand scheme of things. However, some characterizations are definitely off. Violet, played by Malina Weissman, is one of the few that come to mind. In the books, she functions as the fierce leader of the Baudelaire trio and often comes up with plans to save them. In the tv series however, her fierceness is quite downplayed and she comes across as more complacent than active. Instead, her role of leader is given to Klaus, played by Louis Hynes. On a similar note, Aunt Josephine’s character, is given more of a saint-washing, as in the books, she much more selfish and horrible.

Thirdly, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity in casting. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the cast was still white. But there were a few other people of colour in significant roles that I quite enjoyed. In particular, the Baudelaire’s guardians, Uncle Monty, a herpetologist, and Aunt Josephine, a formerly fierce but now cowardly woman, were played by Aasif Mandvi and Alfre Woodard respectively. Not to mention that Mr. Poe was played by K. Todd Freeman. Similarly, one of Olaf’s henchman, The Hook-handed Man, was played by Usman Ally. It’s always really nice to see diversity and although it could 100% be better, I felt that it was still a nice effort (although on a more introspective note, it’s sad how happy I get when there’s more than one POC because there should be more and standards should be higher).

Fourthly, I quite liked the way Lemony Snicket and his commentary were employed throughout show (through the use of Patrick Walburton as Lemony). It brought a uniqueness I did not expect and definitely helped to capture the dark humour of the books. Similarly, I enjoyed the red herring put by the show (deliberately being vague because it really is great LOL).

That said, I also read somewhere that this is a show to be savoured rather than binged and I completely agree. The books themselves are quite dark, but are prevented from being too depressing by Lemony Snicket’s commentary. The tv series doesn’t quite have that advantage at the same level. While Patrick Warburton is good at diffusing certain tense and dark scenes, they still leave the viewer unsettled and focused on the dark scene. If you watch too much of it, there’s chances that you’ll become very sad at the Baudelaire’s plight. However, if you savour each episode and take breaks, I think it would be more enjoyable because you wouldn’t be overtaken by sadness. I did the latter and quite enjoyed the series despite its macabre gothic tone.

My ratingWatch it if you’re a fan of the book series or if you’d like to watch a hopeless show with a sense of misplaced hopefulness.

Advertisements

Quote of the Week

Loneliness is the human condition. Cultivate it. The way it tunnels into you allows your soul room to grow. Never expect to outgrow loneliness. Never hope to find people who will understand you, someone to fill that space. An intelligent, sensitive person is the exception, the very great exception. If you expect to find people who will understand you, you will grow murderous with disappointment. The best you’ll ever do is to understand yourself, know what it is that you want, and not let the cattle stand in the way.”     — Janet Fitch, White Oleander 

Jupiter Ascending Movie Review

jupiter-ascending-main-quadOkay so I have a confession to make: I have never seen the Matrix films trilogy. I just, I wasn’t too into them when they came out and the whole God-story comparison just put me off it further. When they became a big phenomenon, I just tended to ignore discussions on it or distract people. So when Jupiter Ascending came out, with the promotion that it was created and directed by those who created The Matrix, I decided it was high time I sat down and took part (well an indirect part) in the whole Matrix event. However, when the movie came out, I heard some pretty scathing reviews and hence decided that there was no need for me to get involved (LOL). I finally ended up getting over my reluctance and sat down to watch it. And now that I have, I figured a review was due.

In general terms, Jupiter Ascending is about a woman named Jupiter, played by Mila Kunis. Before her birth, her astronomy-loving father died in a robbery attempt gone wrong. Her mother, desolate in her grief, moved to Chicago and raises Jupiter as a single mother while living with some relatives. Quite poor, Jupiter, her mother and aunt work as cleaning ladies for rich people. Jupiter always expects the worst from people, so she hates her life and work. Her days pass by in monotony. However, she’s also incredibly interested in her father and desperately wants to buy a telescope (he was killed in a robbery over a dispute about a telescope). Desperate to gain funds, her cousin convinces her to donate her eggs to earn some extra cash.

Meanwhile, far off into space, it turns out that the universe is ruled by elite alien families. We’re introduced to the powerful House of Abrasax who own and harvest planets, effectively destroying all of its inhabitants. The three Abrasax siblings, Balem played by Eddie Redmayne, Kalique played by Tuppence Middleton, and Titus played by Douglas Booth, are the main characters in this plot. After the death of their mother, Balem inherits a large portion of planets, including the fruitful Earth. Titus does not inherit much but also desires Earth, wanting to end the harvest practises. Kalique remains in the middle. Alongside these aliens, there’s also hybrid humans and robotic-human/ machine people living in space.

Anyways, it turns out that the Abrasax mother had been reincarnated as Jupiter. As a result, if she claimed herself, then Jupiter would own all of the Abrasax’s mother’s inheritance. So when it came to the question of Earth, Jupiter could own it. Realizing this, all three Abrasax siblings send soldiers to Earth to figure out who the mother was reincarnated as (Jupiter) and capture that reincarnation. During Jupiter’s egg donation procedure, it is revealed that the doctors are actually aliens in disguise and sent by Balem to murder her. However, Caine, a human-dog soldier sent by Titus, and played by Channing Tatum, manages to rescue her. Before he can deliver her to Titus, the two are attacked by more of Balem’s men. Caine manages to escape with her and they end up at his friend’s house, Stinger, a human-bee mix, played by Sean Bean.

Here we learn that Caine served under Stinger in some sort of army/ police force but was discharged after he attacked some royalty. Jupiter also discovers that she is a part of the galactic elite. However, the two are again attacked by some soldiers and then transported to Kalique’s residence somewhere in space. Kalique explains to Jupiter than she is her mother’s reincarnation and hence owns Earth. She also reveals how the galactic elite possess a type of youth serum that Jupiter would be entitled to, should she claim her position. However, before things can go any further, the inter-galactic police force (?), Aegis, arrive and grab Jupiter and Caine. At some intergalactic place (?), Jupiter and Caine go through various bureaucratic challenges in order to have her claimed. Just as she finishes, Jupiter and Caine are again intercepted by Titus, after a betrayal by Stinger.

Titus explains to Jupiter how the youth serum is actually derived from the harvest of people on planets. In other words, real humans from other planets are harvested to create the youth serum. Jupiter is understandable disgusted. Titus also reveals how once Jupiter’s reincarnation, his mother, changed her mind and started trying to end the harvest trade instead of profiting from it, she was murdered. Using manipulation, he admits that he plans to stop the harvest trade and proposes to Jupiter in the guise that if anything happens to him, she can continue their work. Jupiter is visibly confused and wants to talk to Caine to discuss things over before she can agree. However, Titus again manipulates her and she ends up agreeing to the wedding. Meanwhile, we see that Titus had Caine captured and reveals his plan to marry Jupiter, kill her, and then inherit her inheritance. Caine is unable to do anything and as Titus expels Caine into the void of space.

On the other hand, the Aegis and Stinger do their best to go after Titus’s ship and save Caine. After Caine is conscious, we learn that Stinger betrayed them in exchange for money to finance his daughter’s sickness. Anyways, Jupiter and Titus’s wedding is arranged quickly and Caine and Stinger attempt to reach the ship to stop it. Just seconds before the wedding is complete, Caine manages to crash the wedding and stop it, revealing Titus’s ultimate plan to Jupiter. Jupiter is understandably shaken and demands to go back home to Earth. When she arrives home, she also discovers that Balem has kidnapped her family and in-exchange for their safety, she must sign over her inheritance to him. The rest of the film deals with that conflict.

All in all, I’m a bit confused as to what I feel for this movie. On one hand, I do like that there is finally a female sci-fi action hero. But on the other hand, she does play the role of damsel-in-distress for a large portion of the film. On one hand, the script is just all over the place with random cuts to scenes and no real exposition in between. But on the other hand, it’s still enjoyable to watch and the visuals are pretty cool. On one hand, some of the acting is really great (Channing Tatum), but on the other hand, some of the acting is just really campy (Eddie Redmayne). I mean, the movie definitely does have its positives but it also has its fair amount of negatives. At this point, in order to get through the haze and form a definitive decision about the film, the best course of option would be to apply a value ranking to the movie’s characteristics. But, I’m having difficult with that as well just because while I don’t think any of the movie’s faults are that incredibly bad, I also don’t think that the movie’s positives are amazingly wonderful. I just, I think I’m just stuck in the middle. It was fun enough to watch, with cheesiness and cliche tropes, but also not firmly in ‘good movie’ category with the disjointing flow.

If anything, I think the movie could’ve benefitted from more editing. Some scenes could’ve been cut, others could’ve been longer, some could’ve been added, etc. I mean, the movie plays off like any sort of generic sci-fi space action flick. But it’s also really ambitious in its scope and that ambitious feelings comes through quite easily while watching. You think and  feel like the movie is going to be really good. I mean while watching, I felt like the harvesting plot might go somewhere and raise questions about morality/immortality, but it just got left behind. I thought maybe the whole idea that humans actually aren’t alone in the world or that we aren’t the biggest hot-shots in the universe was going to be explored and take on the theme of hubris vs dissonance. I thought the whole half human-half animal mix might lead somewhere interesting. I thought maybe Jupiter might be a more nuanced and interesting character than originally perceived to be. Actually, to be fair, I was interested in her pre-alien life, especially with the telescope. Yet, even with these failed opportunities, it doesn’t quite crash and burn for me. It ends up okay and still remains fun- to a point.

My rating: watch it if you’re bored and want a typical sci-fi movie, but you won’t miss anything by skipping it.

The Masked City Book Review

25761086

If you can recall, I reviewed the first book in this series, The Invisible Library, with great enthusiasm and expressed my fervent desire to read the sequels. This week, I finally got my hands on it! And to my delight, this book did not disappoint and instead left me with an even larger cliff-hanger/ desire to read further than the previous instalment!

If you’ve read my previous review, you probably know that one of my great attractions to this series, alongside its general plot (sign me up to become a library spy!), was the character of Irene. Irene is everything you’d want in a protagonist. She’s cool, smart, quick-witted, loyal, and even humble. There’s a few scenes in the book where other characters are visibly scared of her and she is always taken off guard and surprised (although this doesn’t stop her from manipulating the situation and scaring them more LOL). I usually don’t like it when characters are overly naive or modest, but Irene doesn’t come across like that. She’s genuinely unaware. Due to her position as a junior in the Librarian hierarchy, she believes that she still has miles to go before she can even consider herself to be a real, genuine, huge threat to others. So when characters do remark on her achievements or are terrified by her, she is taken off guard. That said, as I also mentioned earlier, this does not mean that she’s completely insecure or unsure of her capabilities. Irene is quite self-aware. She knows her abilities and she does have confidence in herself. I just, I really like her as a protagonist and this instalment just furthered my like. In this book, she goes beyond and demonstrated, not only how supremely talented and capable of a spy she is, but also how responsible, determined and loyal she is.

On that note, this book also goes further into Kai’s background. In the book’s plot, Kai is kidnapped and his kidnapping has the potential of beginning a war between his kind and the opposite of his kind (deliberately being vague, but hopefully for the benefit of new readers!). So, in terms of action, he actually doesn’t feature that much. He only really enters the scene near the end of the book. However, as the book is focused on him and his background, we do learn a little bit about him. And through learning more about his background, we’re also given more information on the world-building this series hinges upon.

We already knew that the Library existed in this timeless dimension with doors to other realities and we finally learn about some of the rules that govern how the other realities function. I had mentioned earlier how some worlds were “chaos-infested” where magic overtook natural order and in this book, we find out that this is because of fae (or fairy folk as I privately refer to them). Fae are described to be these powerful creatures who can create glamours and false realities (i.e. make you believe certain things through their words alone). When too many Fae inhabit a world, they make it chaos-infested because Fae tend to see everyone else as characters in their story. In an ironical twist, Fae see themselves as the protagonists of their story and everyone around them plays a supporting role. Apparently, this means that other humans are manipulated by the Fae so that situations can occur according to the Fae’s chosen story. Hence the term “chaos-infested” because too many Fae = too many competing Fae’s all crafting their own individual stories = humans manipulated and having basically no agency. Of course the degree of chaos- infestation also differs with the level. So while the previous novel was set in a mildly chaos infected London, this book takes place mainly in an extremely chaos-infested Venice (aka different reality). Hopefully, you’re still around after that complicated explanation.

Like my previous review, I don’t want to get too much into the plot of the novel because I think I’d like readers to experience it for themselves. However, I would like to discuss some other things I disliked and enjoyed.

Firstly, I was taken a little off guard by the relationship/ interactions between Detective Vale and Irene. As our lens through the story is Irene, it’s obvious that my observations are undoubtedly influenced by her emotions and POV. Hence, although perhaps it is arguable that Vale’s tone/ words were fine, when Irene found them to be quite harsh, I also found them to be harsh. And personally, I also found Vale’s behaviour with Irene to be quite rude. I understood that he was worried for Kai but at the same time, a little politeness wouldn’t hurt you know. Also, I was also quite peeved at the way Vale seemed to treat Irene’s job/ power. From my perspective, he was almost disdainful of her profession and dismissive of the amount of effort her powers took to be used. He was so callous in his remarks to her that I felt hurt on her behalf. Maybe Vale acts like this because he’s supposed to represent the archetype snobby, know-it-all detective. Whatever the reasons, I was not a fan, although his determination and abilities are indeed amazing.

Secondly, I also found this book to be more…tongue-in-cheek? I’m not quite sure what the exact word is, but throughout the book, Irene and other characters talked at length about stories, story-telling, plot cohesion/ creation, the role of characters, etc. As this is a book based upon books/ a library, I thought it was pretty humorous and ingenious of Cogman to include such discussions in her book. Although perhaps I interpreted it wrongly and perhaps the discussions on books were not meant to be ironic but rather educational? Either way, I thought it was quite interesting and subversive.

Thirdly, related to the second point, there was a whole bit in the book where Irene learns of the story of a horse-and-knight and it’s through that medium quite a bit of the latter discussion on books/ characters/ motivations takes place. However, it just really confused me. I didn’t quite understand the purpose? In my interpretation, the entire discussion was really just a means to an end, rather than being an end in itself. Which isn’t bad I suppose, but not something I’m a big fan of either (i.e. spending too much time on something that isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things). Or maybe I just interpreted it wrong. Whatever.

That said, I personally found the previous book to have more of a thrilling adventure. Don’t get me wrong, this book was definitely a roller coaster of a ride. Yet, as engrossing as it was, I don’t think it lived up to the original novel. I think it fell a tad, very very tiny bit, short of the original. There were a few mentions made of Alberich in this book and I found myself repeatedly more curious about his story/ unfinished business with Irene then the general plot of this book. However, perhaps this is not so much a critique on this book as it is of my own preferences. I suppose I am just more into the general personal plot of the book, centred on Irene specifically, than I am into general world of the book. And that’s actually what a lot of the book focuses upon: fleshing out the general world building of this series. Again, it’s not a bad thing and it’s definitely really interesting.

So the book is still definitely rated pretty highly in my opinion. I’m SUPER excited to get my hands on the final instalment and hopefully have all the little mysterious hints dropped about Irene and her past/ future to be resolved!

My rating: read it for fun and to continue The Invisible Library adventure!

Life in Pieces TV Show Review

life_in_pieces_xlg

Life in Pieces had been on my radar for quite some while. However, it also wasn’t really quite high on the list of things I wanted to watch. So it sat there for a while. Recently, my friend watched the show and reviewed it (here’s the link!). She thought it was a decent enough comedy show. I figured, if she liked it, then I’d probably like it too. So on December 30th, my siblings and I sat down to binge watch the show.

The format of a show, showcasing four different stories within a larger connected family, was one that I immediately associated with Modern Family. As such, my expectations, going into the show, were that it would sort of be like Modern Family, wherein each individual adventure would eventually be tied up into a larger adventure with the entire family. Surprisingly, Life in Pieces didn’t go down that route. Instead, the show stuck of showing four, unrelated ‘pieces’ (LOL) of the various family member’s lives. In other words, we just got like little shorts of their lives (ironic because the name of the family in the show is Short). On that note, the show revolves around the members of the Short family, consisting of the retired former pilot father, John Short, the therapist mother, Joan Short, the oldest daughter and stay-at-home-mom, Heather Hughes and her doctor husband and three children, Tim Hughes, Tyler, Samantha, Sophie Hughes, the middle son, struggling artist Matt Short and his girlfriend Coleen Ortega, and the youngest son, Greg Short and his lawyer wife and newborn daughter, Jen Short and Lark Short. Also, unlike Modern FamilyLife in Pieces isn’t filmed as a mockumentary, its filmed as a general tv show.

Each episode deals with an issue the various family members face. So, for example, one of Greg and Jen’s ‘shorts’ dealt with them coming to terms with childbirth and the changes that result, such as sex. On the other hand, one of Heather’s shorts focused upon her family and her having a contest to see who generated the least amount of trash. However, the shorts also aren’t just limited to nuclear family members, as the individual stories do include a mix of members. In one of Heather’s shorts, she is angry at her son’s decisions to forgo a college education and Matt plays a pivotal role in reconciling her to that fact. Similarly, in one of Matt’s shorts, he is forced to invite his parents to his valentine’s day dinner with Colleen. Sometimes, like Modern Family, the show also has shorts that include the entire family. Hence, the mixup is always kept interesting.

That said, the show does have its fair amount of drawbacks. One of the biggest drawbacks for me, is the consistency of the comedy. This criticism actually also relates to one of my biggest likes from the show as well. Life in Pieces has some incredibly, incredibly funny scenes. I mean, there’s scenes that had my siblings and I rolling on the ground from laughing too much. However, there’s also a fair amount (far more than the funny scenes) of boring scenes where nothing happens. Well actually, stuff does happen, but its not funny or that enjoyable, just passable. Secondly, sometimes the show has a tendency to use cliche tropes, such as the protagonists forgoing an event in order to spend time with a lonely person. They don’t really detract from the show too much. But considering what a stellar cast this show boasts of, I think the show should aim higher and terminate cliche usage. I mean, Colin Hanks, James Brolin, Betsy Brandt, Thomas Sadoski, Dianne Wiest, Zoe Lister-Jones, Angelique Cabral and Dan Bakkedahl are hilariously talented. There’s so much more the writers could be doing with them.

On that note, their characters themselves aren’t also something new. They’re quite recognizable cliche types in quite a few aspects. Also, the content matter of the show also ranges. Some stories are definitely rated R (there was a scene where Greg has to insert a cold ice-filled glove into Jen’s vagina to sooth her post-childbirth) while others are a solid G (there’s an episode dedicated solely to Sophie’s inner monologue). Personally, I didn’t quite mind it, but if there are younger kids around watching, I’d definitely be a little cautious. On top of that, the stories themselves also range, from being somewhat realistic and believable to being completely weird, random, and unexpected. Though that might be more of a positive than a negative.

Personally, I quite enjoyed the show just because of the sheer strength of the comedy scenes. I mean, there’s not a ton of comedy scenes, but whenever there is one, it always kills (in a good way!). That’s actually one of the main reasons my siblings and I continued watching. Similarly, I actually quite enjoy watching the more outlandish moments that happen in the show. For some reason, I think they work really well for the show. Although, that might just be because the cast is so good at acting and pulling off even the most weirdest scenes. Nonetheless, I’m happy that the show has been renewed for season two and quite excited to see what happens next!

My rating: Watch it if you’re bored and want a decent-enough comedy show to watch.